NBA Playoff Recap - West First Round, Game 4
(8) Oklahoma City 110, (1) L.A. Lakers 89 - Series tied, 2-2
Game 4 of the Western Conference first-round series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder was going to tell the basketball community a great deal about the state of the teams involved.
Needless to say, the Lakers have some very urgent business to tend to over the next few days. They're in for a much bigger dogfight than many people ever could have imagined.
If one had to lay odds on this suddenly even-steven showdown, the Lakers would still merit an edge, but they'd probably need seven games in which to dispose of the pesky and now potent Thunder, who shook and rattled L.A. on Saturday night at a typically raucous Ford Center.
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If Oklahoma City was tentative in Game 1 and just a little too eager in Game 2, Thursday's Game 3 win - featuring a bold and confident fourth quarter from both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook - profoundly transformed coach Scott Brooks's ballclub from the Sooner State. Oklahoma City took the positive feelings it gained in Game 3 and poured them into a dominating effort against Coach Phil Jackson's Lakers, a defending champion that will have to work very hard in order to merely advance to the second round.
One of the most striking aspects of this series, through four games, is the fact that while the Lakers own more size and brawn near the basket, they haven't been able to impose their will on the Thunder. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are taller and more physically imposing than anyone on the Oklahoma City roster; when the Lakers get the ball to their big men, good things often happen. Yet, Los Angeles has not exploited this advantage to full effect, and that's a big reason why the Thunder are even with the champs after four games.
On Saturday night, Bynum and Gasol both hit 50 percent of their shots. That's the good news. The bad news is that they both attempted only 10 field goals, which meant that they hit only five and did not score more than 13 points. The Lakers can structure this series much more favorably, but simply haven't done so, partly by choice. The Lake Show needlessly and senselessly hoisted 22 3-pointers in Game 4, making only four of them. That kind of ill-advised shot selection is not what one would expect from a Phil Jackson-coached team. L.A. must pound the ball inside, and its unwillingness (not inability; the problem is deeper than that) to do so is a big reason for the 2-2 series tally.
While the Lakers played timidly on Saturday and refused to cram the ball into the low post, the Thunder played with far more forcefulness, aggression and decisiveness. Oklahoma City didn't shoot extraordinarily well, but the Thunder - while committing only eight turnovers - earned 20 more foul shots than the Lakers (48-28) and made 25 more attempts from the charity stripe (42-17). The astounding free throw differential offers the best, most telling, and most lasting indication of Oklahoma City's physical dominance and superior shot selection in comparison with the Lakers.
Now the series returns to the City of Angels for Game 5. If Oklahoma City can continue to establish the patterns it has set in motion, we could have a cliffhanger of a series on our hands. For once, Hollywood would not like the drama or the box-office action.
By: Matt Zemek
ProBasketball-fans.com Senior Staff Writer
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